View Full Version : British European Airways - what kind of airline was it?

10th Jun 2021, 19:58
What was BEA?

An initial reflection is that it was:

An airline that is still seen and remembered very differently by different people.

A democratic airline, serving the ordinary passenger – rather than the richer global travellers who patronised BOAC (and yet it was also an airline that pursued the wealthy through its ‘Silver Wing’ services).

An airline with a more modern, funkier image than staid and conservative BOAC.

A steadfast, if not always enthusiastic, supporter of the UK’s domestic aircraft industry (although its particular specifications sometimes led to the design of aircraft that were less well suited to the needs of the global market – eg Trident).

A successful airline which often made a profit, even while sustaining a ‘public service obligation’ running loss-making services to the Scottish Highlands and Islands and the Channel Islands.

An airline that was sometimes forward looking – an early adopter of turboprops, of short-haul jets, and even of helicopters, and a pioneer in blind landing and Autoland.

There are questions about personnel management, industrial relations, and an accident rate that, with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight seems high (but was it, on a per thousand flying hours/sectors basis?).

Your thoughts???

10th Jun 2021, 21:51
A British airline operating throughout Europe ?

And a great company to work for ...

barry lloyd
10th Jun 2021, 22:23
A British airline operating throughout Europe ?

And a great company to work for ...

Well, western Europe. Not too many destinations in Eastern Europe. (I used to have to fly Swissair to reach, Bucharest or Sofia, and the services to the other capitals were infrequent).

11th Jun 2021, 10:19
Cue blind pew

11th Jun 2021, 13:43
BEA had tie ups with GT GIB Air, MG The Malta Airlines, TP Portuguese AW OA Olympic Airways and of course CY Cyprus Airways.
Various stickers would adorn BEA aircrafts if they were doing a pooled service.

BEA Red Square livery times were possibly the most formative with Viscounts Vanguards Comets and the new Tridents on line.
A few new Trident 2 came first in Red Square livery.

YN Night Tourist fares were popular/cheaper and BEA flew many summer Holiday services leaving at night mainly on Vanguards to -
LIS and onto PXO Porto Santo with Comets
DBV from 1965
ALC IBZ and GRO commenced in 1967
OPO and FAO in 1968

These YN fares were BEA's answer to fight off the growing Package Holiday Industry using their own BEA Silver Wing Holidays brand, that became Cooks Silver Wing with BEA and later BEA Sovereign Holidays.
Hickie Borman Package Holidays used BEA, using the name ACEFLIGHT by prop-jet Vanguards of the BEA fleet for their charters, and SCHEDAIR group flight using BEA YN fares.

Most of the YN services slogged through the night with many leaving LAP at 0100 or even later.
Passengers had the luxury of checking in though at BEA's London Air Terminal and taking the coach out to the Airport.

blind pew
12th Jun 2021, 05:39
Thank you Mr. Bean for your kind thoughts.
BEA also had a large share in Aerlingus who negotiated a deal with KLM who kept out of the Republic which allowed them to charge astronomical fares in the 70s. Iirc around 3 months average salary Dub - Lhr.
BEA did fly Sofia Bucharest which was a 3 leg trip on Trident 1s. SR flew with guaranteed connections and poached many BA pax who were prepared to pay a lot more.
To me it was two companies...paper pushers who kept the benefits for themselves and their mates (my wife was in a maternity ward in Reading hospital adjacent to a jock who got as many free tickets home as she wanted from her friend a sales manager whilst cabin crew and BOAC couldn’t get interline tickets issued.
One only has to read the Staines inquiry, look up the accident records or the number of strikes and work to rules that affected the airline prior to Lord King to answer your questions.

12th Jun 2021, 06:28
BEA did fly Sofia Bucharest which was a 3 leg trip on Trident 1s.

LHR-ZAG-BEG was another Eastern Europe dog-leg service, albeit that it stopped at Zagreb both outbound and inbound, whereas the above went LHR-SOF-BUH-LHR. Other Iron curtain routes included WAW, BUD, PRG, etc.

12th Jun 2021, 11:34
BEA expanded further into the UK regions during the 1960s with its gradual acquisition of BKS/Northeast and Cambrian, supplying both airlines with surplus Viscount 806s and establishing British Air Services as a holding company. Who knows if these were purely business decisions or driven by Ronald Edwards and his gang ? Before my time but I'd argue that both airlines were essentially operating as BEA in all but name by the early 1970s.

12th Jun 2021, 13:14
A state monopoly

12th Jun 2021, 15:40
Bloody awful - no style, no comfort, run for the staff and the bosses. Also did significant damage to the UK air industry by insisting on its own standards

12th Jun 2021, 23:26
They treated their passengers pretty well - although all airlines did back in the days when one dressed up to fly! Holiday travel to Spain and Gibraltar on Vanguards (Vickers Vibrators) and being allowed onto the flight deck - those were the days!!


blind pew
13th Jun 2021, 06:40
Trident 2 with 3 rows of aft facing seats..to Athens on a similar trip I met my Mrs. P2 geoff Brouson who took our wedding photos and like many had a job on the side to help pay the bills. Skipper ex master of the guild, iirc took early retirement and had had a mid air with Airfrance flying to Paris. Never flew with him but had a reputation second to none. Used to organise talks and visits similar to those organised by Hugh Dibley at Toulouse for the Royal Aérosoc.

13th Jun 2021, 08:18
"They treated their passengers pretty well"

I remember it differently - the only airline with "sticky" surfaces - due to a lack of cleaning - alas, alack not the last ....................

pax britanica
18th Jun 2021, 15:07
I grew up next to LHR and there was much BEA BOAC rivalry . In practice however they were two completely different operations. There was intense rivalry and at the time that spilled over into often open dislike between the two corporations and their employees. Those attitudes didnt change all that much for years after BA was founded and the two carried on as short haul and long haul.

BOAC links with Empire , and America lots of weird schedules where the route to HK or Tokyo changed everyday . long haul multi stop routes all over the place and no doubt well earned layovers aircraft and crews away from LHR days at a time.

BEA a business service , almost all western European capitals multiple times daily , Fog 100ft cloudbase snow much of the year , Fog in the Po valley and Ruhr, snow and Ice in Scandi land and the east . Not a lot of glamour aside from Nice or Athens . Domestic shuttles and virtual ones like Dublin Paris and Amsterdam , and as the saying went Back Every Afternoon.

So hard to compare I think average flight time for BA flight crew was probably 90 mins compared to 5-6 hours on BOAC .

Dubious management practices at both airlines , according to gossip where I lived rather too many people from the handshake fraternity in both places and obviously areas where in spite of differences it could have been one airline, Air France Lufti etc managed ok as one company and were very similar in scale and reach to the combined British airlines.

But for the time both did pretty well and represented Britain quite well too , financially BEA seemed to hover around break even making some profit some eyars losing abit others . BOAC tended to make bigger profits but also bigger losses . BEA had moor accidents but probably 6-8 times as many landings and lots and lots of low visibility operations . BEA /short haul only ever had British Aircraft one the Daks had gone and the Tridents didnt match the economics of what a mix of DC9 and 727s might have done for them.

It might have made more sense for a single flight crew pool but at that time I am sure that would never have flown (!!)

Overall a reflection of the times , its now fashionable to deride thatera of nationalised industries and corporations and they ahd their faults for sure. But they were British most of our utilities and Infrastructure now isnt, (is BA British , Spanish , irish or what) and most had borne the great burden of providing the infrastructure of a modern Britain post W2 whichat the time was beyond the capacity or capability of private capital. Both airlines did a good job for the Uk by the standards of the time and bequeathed a true global business in BA to private investors

Akrotiri bad boy
18th Jun 2021, 21:29
Bravo Pax B :D

19th Jun 2021, 07:54
The problem with BEA was that , even at the time, they were noted as being behind other European Airlines such as KLM and Lufthansa and SAS in many aspects of the business and the customer experience. These european airlines also had to build from scratch post WW2 so that excuse doesn't wash IMHO

BOAC were undoubtedly the leading long -haul airline in the world but the attitudes where chalk & cheese

19th Jun 2021, 08:06
much BEA BOAC rivalry Spoke at length some years ago with an ex-military pilot who had joined BOAC and progressed to become a BA Concorde Captain.

His view was that the operations too were "chalk and cheese". These were the days before cellphones and email; once beyond Europe - certainly Eastabout - the captain was very much "sole proprietor" and couldn't easily 'phone home to sort out problems.

In his view - I have no non-military piloting experience - it was that difference which attracted him to BOAC rather than BEA when he left the RAF. So perhaps the different operations attracted different "types" who would then perpetuate the differences.

19th Jun 2021, 10:09
Asturias and teeteringhead,

You are both right about the differences and rivalries between BEA and BOAC before the merger, the two companies were like chalk and cheese, both operationally and cuturally. After the merger, the task of combining the two operations was not easy. Many arguments and conflicts occurred within Flight Operations while trying to harmonising procedures, terminology, manuals and flight training. At the time of the merger, it is hard to think of two more disparate airlines with such entirely different operating philosophies.

BEA flew British designed aircraft. BOAC was much influenced by American aircraft, consequently, much of the terminology used was different. BEA flew only within Europe. BOAC flew worldwide. BEA pilots flew mainly short sectors, several of them in the same day on routes they knew well. BOAC pilots flew mostly longer sectors, fewer of them per day, or per month, and in much more varied operating environments. BEA’s flight planning and flight documents were simplified and tailored for their type of operation whereas BOAC’s flight planning was more sophisticated so as to extract the maximum payload/range from their aircraft. BEA pilots flew in the bad weather of northern Europe. BOAC pilots flew mainly in better weather, but had to cope with such things as the thunderstorms and monsoons of the tropics and the ice and snow of North America. BEA pilots flew in the developed countries of Europe. BOAC pilots flew in third world countries, frequently with primitive ATC, and poorly maintained navigation aids and airfields. BEA pilots flew mainly on airways with good navigation aids and mostly in radar coverage. BOAC pilots flew over oceans and deserts where there were few navigation aids, where formal navigation procedures were required and the possibility of diverting to a nearby airfield in an emergency could be difficult or even impossible.

BEA used the ‘Monitored Approach’ where one pilot flew the approach on instruments down to decision height and the other looked out for the runway to make a visual landing. In BOAC, the same pilot flew both the approach and the landing. In BEA, pilot conversion courses could be completed more quickly than in BOAC because, with frequent short sectors being flown each day, trainees were able to complete their route training in a shorter time. In BEA, most aircraft itineraries involved the aircraft returning to base each evening, whereas BOAC crews could be away for up to two weeks. In BOAC, where an aircraft might be away from base for several days out to Australia and back, aircraft needed to be dispatched from base with fewer allowable defects, they did not return to base every night where defects could be fixed.

Clearly, in the interest of efficiency in the new British Airways, unnecessary differences needed to be eliminated. Therefore, a programme of harmonisation was implemented with the aim of picking out the best practices from both airlines to produce a common operating standard. But there were many difficulties which had to be overcome in order to achieve the necessary compromises.

Also, the captain's job was different. Back in the 1960s and 70s, communications with London were primative. Therefore, as teeteringhead has said, the captain was very much on his own with regard to operational decisions and passenger care. The combination of this and the poor ATC required far more independence of mind - and, dare I say, more job satisfaction.

blind pew
19th Jun 2021, 11:51
I would agree with practically all posted having been in the first group to transfer from BEA to BOAC after the formation of BA. The differences were astonishing especially flying two UK built aircraft but I would disagree with the hypothesis that BEA had more accidents because of the relative higher number of sectors.
The VC10 manuals were SO different to the Trident and both had deficiencies as did some other foreign aircraft that I flew. What was very different was our treatment as grown ups in BOAC and not just being copilots. Things had changed after the 747 did a touch and go through the plantation in KL and I had the ten in part 1.
Both had union troubles in the 70s, Tebbit grounding the 747 and the terrible atmosphere which was partly responsible for Staines.
I did get the impression that the rivalry was one sided with BEA mistakenly considering themselves superior.
I later experienced flying short haul to poorly equipped countries both in Eastern Europe and Africa as well as long haul with similar problems. One notable trip was to Conakry just after another coup which left the old regime hanging from a bridge. A Palace in the circuit equipped with anti aircraft batteries with a note that we would be shot down if we infringed the airspace, a notam that there was a trench 1/3rd of the way down the runway ( it had been filled in but with orange soil across the runway which we didn't know) and Chinese ATC whose French and English was unintelligible.
Another was into Tirana when it first started to open with non precision approach..ndb..thunderstorms..mountains and trying to determine our position using weather radar for the coast outline with a nav display that dropped out (it would only work with two DMEs.)
It comes down to training, professionalism and preparation; BOAC with briefing notes and having your own flight manuals. The offer of backsheesh simulator time on the ten. In BEA you picked the flight manuals up at check in and often you had to check if the procedures were correct as BEA used letraset to produce them. (BOAC had an early computer system).
The other big differences were the lack of dozens of carry forwards on the ten and the better crew relationships.
Finally whilst I flew both monitored approach systems that the non handling pilot did the throttles and only auto throttle unless there was an engine failure I found bizarre at best.

19th Jun 2021, 12:31
From the perspective of Engineering (my old stamping ground), the differences between the former BEA and BOAC camps were still very apparent by the time I moved on to pastures new, eight years after the merger.

Though I did my best to promote good relations by marrying an ex-BOAC girl. :O

19th Jun 2021, 16:25
From a reservations point of view BEA favoured their European pool partners who were BOAC's competitors.
They were also close to PanAm and TWA.
BOAC's partners were Qantas,SAA and the other Commonwealth companies..
There was very little contact and later two very different computer systems.
In BOAC I could use staff travel on just about any airline in the world except BEA.

pax britanica
20th Jun 2021, 13:15
I was only a passenger and an airline 'brat, all my friends fathers worked for one or the other corporation.

I dont think I was making excuses or suggesting all BEAs incidents were due to the normal longhaul v shorthaul differences but some probably were. From the outside and as passenger-a real one not just all the travelling i did on fathers standby - where I usually got on as somone had goth is date of joining wrong and he had even more seniority on paper than in the real world. I had heard the story about travelling on anyone other than the 'other side' but as BEA I travelled all over the place on standby, Caribbean , Mauritius, USA Seychelles with no problem at all, even getting a ticket swapped from BEA to BOAC after getting stuck in Cyprus where oddly both corporations flew too.

However as some comments here show that feelings run deep even close to 50 years on , I had a close friend who was FO on 707s for BOAC ( I did several staff travel trips with him and his wife both BOAC) and I never heard him make a serious negative comment about BEA altho plenty of jocular ones, mostly about his theory that if you took a Trident to Nairobi it would never leave again. My wife left BEA Engineering for BOACs Speedbird London and was not at all popular with her former bosses, or her father for that matter.


20th Jun 2021, 21:38
For anyone interested, Talking Pictures TV has BEA Number 1 in Europe showing on Wednesday, 23rd June 0735-0815 (tel:0735-0815) BST. Made in 1971 to celebrate the first 25 years of the airline. No doubt full of PR hype but should be good for a glimpse of airline operations, yes, 50 odd years ago!